When Spark Media Project Executive Director Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt was asked to apply for the same role at Mill Street Loft, she countered with a suggestion: “I told them I’d only apply if I could bring Spark with me,” she says. “It just made so much sense.”
Thus did two of Poughkeepsie’s flourishing decades-old arts education organizations become one, merging on January 1, 2018 to form The Art Effect. “The synergy of our complementary missions has brought us improved best practices, additional community support, a stronger Board of Directors, and more programs,” says Nicole.
“The biggest thing is the focused intention that helped us build a strong sequential curriculum across all program levels and art disciplines, which is designed to help every young person involved in our programs achieve success in their life.”
“Our goal is that every person we work with will wind up with a college scholarship or a job.”
–Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt, Executive Director
Three levels of programming—Explore, Experience, and Excel—provide pathways from discovering different art media, to uncovering an individual voice and a medium of expression, to, ultimately, mastering that artistic medium.
Explore programs bring arts immersion to young children via Dutchess and Ulster Arts Camp, vulnerable populations and trauma survivors via Arts for Healing, Poughkeepsie public schools via the Empire After School Program, and Hudson Valley libraries via Mobile Media Labs.
At the Experience level, there’s a focus on serious skill-building with an eye to going professional one day. “We are not believers in the myth of the ‘starving artist,’” says Nicole. “People think that there’s a tiny handful of winners in the arts and everyone else starves, and that is absolutely untrue. The arts offer a lot of very viable, satisfying paths into the workforce. We have hundreds of alumni who have secured amazing jobs in the creative arts, from designing theater scenes on Broadway to digital user experience at Amazon to medical prosthetics at major hospitals. But whether you’re in it to heal yourself, express yourself, or build a career, The Art Effect absolutely has something for you.”
At the Excel level is the Art Institute, a series of pre-college portfolio programs designed to help motivated students master their skills in visual and media arts. The Excel level also includes Forge Media, in which advanced apprentices, mentored by professionals, produce media for local clients. The descendant of Spark Media Project, Forge has a 20-year track record of cost-effective, professional media to meet the unique needs of businesses, schools, agencies, and organizations.
“You get a great product at a great value and you’re supporting the community and young, emerging talent,” Nicole points out.
“We focus on fostering the skills of self-expression, economic stability, self-healing, and the creation of beauty to build strong, self-aware communities that nurture the next generation. ”
– Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt, Executive Director
High school students, including those at the Art Institute and Forge, can participate in Hudson Valley Portfolio Day, at which representatives of over 40 college art programs offer feedback to hundreds of young artists. “I have seen some youth get scholarship offers on the spot,” Nicole says. For film students, the Reel Expressions International Film Festival offers a showcase at the Bardavon, complete with an opening reception and Q&A panels. (Reel Expressions, which highlights emerging filmmakers from around the world, is coming up soon on Saturday, April 6, 2019, at the Bardavon theater in Poughkeepsie.)
Media components are integrated throughout the arts offerings, and that has had a multiplier effect on programming and collaboration, from student project possibilities to workforce development tracks to community partnerships. And, of course, every person touched is learning not just art, but project planning, execution, collaboration, agency, and all the other life skills needed for a fully realized and creative life.
Every young person is learning not just art, but project planning, execution, collaboration, agency, and all the other life skills needed for a fully realized and creative life.
Nicole says The Art Effect is committed to inclusion in every possible sense of the word. If an individual student is hampered by transportation, life issues, or lack of equipment, The Art Effect will find a ride, a counselor, or a camera.
Says Nicole: “We serve the whole population of Poughkeepsie and the mid-Hudson Valley, no matter income or background, and give out lots of scholarships. We raise tens of thousands for scholarships but it’s never enough. So if we can squeeze a few more kids in, we’ll squeeze ‘em in. There’s no golden key, just, ‘here’s the path and we’ll help you walk it.’ Our goal is that every person we work with will wind up with a college scholarship or a job. It’s been inspiring to see how dedicated my staff is to serving every student who comes through our doors.”
In February 2019, a little over a year after the merger, The Art Effect announced that 20 Art Institute students had received over 100 regional Hudson Valley Scholastic Awards. A newly published annual report cites more results: 25 young filmmakers employed through Forge Media, 100 percent of Art Institute seniors accepted to college with scholarship aid, 2,075 individuals directly served, and $3,616,800 in scholarship funds offered to graduates.
The Art Effect’s goals are ambitious: 100 percent will finish high school, complete a portfolio, get admitted to a two- or four-year institution with a scholarship, and be employed within a year—a comprehensive lifeboat for life’s stormy seas, and for those who’d like to captain their own ships.
“We continue to work on creating whole new levels of potential—to grow as our students grow,” says Nicole. “We focus on fostering the skills of self-expression, economic stability, self-healing, and the creation of beauty to build strong, self-aware communities that nurture the next generation. It’s happening already.”
The Art Effect
45 Pershing Avenue, Poughkeepsie
845-471-7477 | feelthearteffect.org